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Church Is More Democratic Than Government

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.themoscowtimes.com/article/1045/42/374242.htm Wednesday, February 04, 2009 Updated at 04 February 2009 0:49 Moscow Time Church Is More Democratic
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 3, 2009

      Wednesday, February 04, 2009
      Updated at 04 February 2009 0:49 Moscow Time

      Church Is More Democratic Than Government
      04 February 2009By Yevgeny Kiselyov

      Kirill was enthroned on Sunday as patriarch of the Russian Orthodox
      Church. Although most Russians consider themselves Orthodox, only
      about 13 percent of them regularly attend church. Nonetheless, the
      election of a new patriarch is truly an historical event, no less
      significant than the election of a new president.

      The patriarchate was restored in 1917 following the fall of the
      Russian monarchy. Russia was proclaimed a secular country with a
      division of church and state. Since that time, the Local Council, a
      congress consisting of clergymen and laypersons from all over Russia,
      has gathered only six times to elect the head of the church.

      It is interesting that in 1917, Tikhon of Moscow, the first patriarch
      elected in the 20th century, was chosen by the old custom of drawing
      lots for one of the three candidates receiving the most votes from
      the Local Council. Of the three, the favorite at the time was
      Archbishop Anthony -- extremely active and popular in religious
      circles and stridently opposed to the Bolsheviks. But when an elder,
      blind monk drew the winning name from a special urn, it was the
      outsider Tikhon who took the throne. Then, for many long decades
      under the communist regime, the Kremlin essentially appointed the
      patriarch, selecting individuals for their loyalty to the Soviet
      authorities. Only under former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was
      the late Patriarch Alexy II chosen by a somewhat more democratic
      election process.

      There are conflicting opinions regarding Kirill's election. Some say
      it was a profanation of the electoral process and that everything had
      been decided in advance. Others claim that Kirill's win was the
      result of a protracted struggle that began long before the former
      patriarch had left this world.

      The liberal opposition members of the church claim that the Kremlin
      is still pulling the strings of the Moscow Patriarchate and that the
      Kremlin still decides who will become the new patriarch. But "the
      Kremlin" is a conglomeration of various groupings, not a homogenous
      entity. Demonstrations by the pro-Kremlin Nashi youth group, which
      took place outside Christ the Savior Cathedral as the Local Council
      was electing the patriarch, proves that Kirill relied on Kremlin
      resources -- to be more precise, he relied on the Kremlin's spin doctors.

      Some observers sincerely felt that Kirill was actually a liberal and
      a modernist. Skeptics caustically said Kirill was merely skillful at
      packaging conservative church ideology in a glamorous wrapper. Others
      justly pointed out that the Orthodox community -- particularly in the
      outlying provinces -- is so obscurantist that even the slightest
      trace of liberalism would be considered anathema.

      And that was precisely Kirill's biggest problem. He came across as
      too modern, too erudite and too Western. It is no coincidence that
      the Russian church has "orthodox" as its middle name. It stands upon
      the pillars of traditions and rituals that have remained unchanged
      for centuries. Adherents of traditional orthodoxy assert that, if
      those rituals and traditions were eliminated, if the church services
      now delivered in the old Slavic language were translated into modern
      Russian, the church as an institution would surely die. This is why
      Kirill constantly repeated in his election campaign, "I am opposed to
      any church reforms."

      Metropolitan Kliment was Kirill's main rival for the patriarchal
      throne. Kliment is the manager of the Moscow Patriarchate's affairs,
      a graying cardinal, church apparatchik and a favorite among church
      fundamentalists -- in particular, Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov,
      abbot of the Sretensky Monastery. Rumor has it that Shevkunov is
      Putin's closest religious adviser and confidant. Shevkunov is also
      thought to have very close ties with top leaders of the siloviki,
      including Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, Federal Drug Control
      Service chief Viktor Ivanov and Russian Railways head Vladimir
      Yakunin, as well as conservatives such as State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov.

      One interesting fact: Of all the people in the hierarchy of the
      Russian Orthodox Church, Putin chose only Kliment to be a member of
      the Public Chamber. What's more, there was a lot of talk that first
      lady Svetlana Medvedeva favored Kliment. So, although Medvedev and
      Putin both distanced themselves from the struggle for the patriarch's
      throne, Kirill's main rival clearly enjoyed support from top-ranking

      Kliment received 169 of the 702 possible votes cast by the Local
      Council. In addition, a close associate of that electoral body
      suggested in all earnestness that the patriarch be chosen by lots, as
      Tikhon was in 1917. That was a last-ditch effort to level the playing
      field in the face of Kirill's clear lead.

      Kirill was the favorite in the race. First, he dominated the
      television airwaves. It was more Kirill's longstanding connection
      with the world of television than assistance from the authorities
      that helped. Kirill has hosted the weekly "Pastor's Word" program on
      state-controlled Rossia television since 1994. But this was not his
      only advantage. Kliment and his supporters stepped out of the public
      eye to get involved in backroom intrigues, where they also lost. The
      Church Synod elected Kirill as the interim leader after Alexy II
      passed away. This reminded me of the Soviet era, when the person
      chosen to oversee the burial of the deceased Communist Party general
      secretary invariably became the next general secretary himself.

      Second, Kirill's supporters convinced Metropolitan Vladimir, head of
      the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the division of the Ukranian church
      that is subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate, to step out of the
      race. In theory, Vladimir could have garnered one-third of the Local
      Council's votes because the Ukrainian delegation was the most
      numerous. Kirill apparently promised Vladimir something in return,
      perhaps greater autonomy from Moscow.

      Finally, Kirill managed to convince the other candidate, the aging
      Metropolitan Filaret of Belarus, to withdraw from the contest at the
      last minute. Filaret's votes swung to Kirill.

      In short, Kirill won like a politician and a skilled apparatchik. It
      is a curious side note that during these elections, the Russian
      Orthodox Church, with all its shortcomings, appeared more lively and
      democratic than the secular government. The battle for the
      patriarchal throne was incomparably more dramatic than the race for
      the presidential post in the Kremlin, and therefore it attracted
      greater public interest.

      It is interesting that in his first speech from the patriarchal
      throne, Kirill, contrary to all of his pre-election promises to
      resist reform, strongly urged the church to get in step with modern
      life. Now this is possible under Kirill's leadership.

      Kirill won the contest decisively. But more important, Kirill has
      returned the sense of what it means to be a public politician.

      Yevgeny Kiselyov is a political analyst and hosts a political talk
      show on Ekho Moskvy radio.
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